Joy to the World

The Surprising Message of a Misunderstood Christmas Carol

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas this weekend, it’s a good time to turn our attention to a well-known hymn often sung at Christmas time: “Joy to the World.” Those of us pursuing God’s glory and the fulfillment of the Great Commission in the context of enterprise can draw both insight and encouragement from this hidden gem.

While “Joy to the World” is one of the best-loved Christmas carols, it was not written for Christmas and was not even originally intended to be a hymn. The words of the song were originally written in 1719 by poet and hymn-writer Isaac Watts as part of a collection of poems, where each poem was based on a different psalm from the BiblePsalm 98 forms the basis for the particular poem which eventually became the song we know as “Joy to the World.”

Watts’s words evoke images less of the incarnation of Jesus than of his second coming. The first verse speaks of the culmination of the Great Commission work when Jesus comes as King:

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare him room,

And heaven and nature sing

In the last stanza, Watts describes how his coming results in a rule of truth and grace, transforming the nations into exemplars of God’s righteousness and love:

He rules the world with truth and grace,

And makes the nations prove

The glories of his righteousness,

And wonders of his love

But the third verse is possibly the most pertinent to both work and missions, telling how his coming ends the impact of sin on both the sorrows of our lives and the curse that has beset our earthly endeavors:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make his blessings flow

Far as the curse is found

In all our work in this world – whether in advancing the gospel, addressing this world’s pains and sorrows, or struggling in our work against “thorns and thistles” – we will eventually see the complete flow of his blessings. So, in these next few days, when we hear this familiar song, let’s remember that its message is not aimed at our holiday moments, but at our everyday lives now and as we await the joy of his transforming impact on our work and witness.

Verse(s) of the Week:

The LORD has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Psalm 98:2-3 (ESV)

This week, as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, let’s meditate on his love and faithfulness that are expressed to the ends of the earth through his coming.

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